I have just spent a very interesting week in Dubai visiting my daughter. Now, I have travelled to various parts of the middle east before, and I know that the souks or markets are terrific places to find interesting old things. It was a surprise to find that the local Emerati community of Dubai seems to be totally subsumed by the consumer needs of their expat population. Traditionalism in arts and crafts or cultural practice are hidden from the tourist gaze.
What is left is what Baudrillard, the french philosopher would call, a simulacra - an artificial construction - a simulation of the real which in Dubai translates into an arab type disney world on a large scale in the form of resort type living communities, and huge shopping malls which cater for the western taste.
The picture above shows a flea market in downtown Dubai. Set in a beautiful park, it consisted of expats offloading their stuff before returning home and eastern Europeans selling costume jewelery.
I was hoping for something interesting to buy, but there was a lot of ikea and huge piles of modern clothes at bargain prices. You could hardly move for the crowd and this was at 8.30 in the morning!
Shopping malls look and feel like every where else in the world except that there are skiing fields or giant aquariums in them, or history lessons full of life ancient boats and ancient architecture. These add a welcome interest to endless big brand shops. Souks it turned out were also full of contemporary tourist trap stuff. The beautiful bedouin dress below was unusual. The lights although traditional were also new and can be found in Morocco.
I can't complain however about the use of traditional architecture in these contemporary souks, such as in Medinat below. The richness and ornateness of middle eastern art continues to be a fascination. As there was nothing old to buy- I focused on the design elements of this fascinating hybrid city.
In particular I was taken with some of the interior design of the Burge Al Arab - the famous sail shaped 7 star hotel in Dubai (yes, thats a helicopter pad on top - you can't expect guests to enter by foyer can you?)
By western standards it has been criticised as kitsch and extravagant and yet it is particularly middle eastern in taste but in a contemporary form. The lift doors for example are pure deco to me - yet on closer inspection they are arabic words and nature inspired shapes and forms that are traditional to the culture and have long been in use as decorative motifs (no doubt influencing the west in the early twentieth century)
The balconies above reference old middle eastern domestic architecture and the colours reflect the surrounding sea and sand of the desert. The gold plated everything that you see above in the foyer (yes, real gold) is an expression of opulence, wealth and power, and it is far less garish and tasteful than the same use of gold at Versaille or Trump Tower for example.
Curiously in the midst of this hyper traditionalism - references to the future in the form of the entrance bay to the restaurant really stand out - It was very unexpected and quite exciting to see walls of circuitry fit so well into this post modernist interior.
Kitsch by western standards? I don't know - is there anything more kitsch than acres of bland marble, steel and glass that is supposed to represent class and elegance in the western corporate hotel and shopping mall world? We seem so bland in the west, so lost in what Billy Connolly the comedian calls beigism.
In Dubai, it turns out that there is evidence of continuing traditional craftsmanship everywhere - if you look for it. Give me the energy and individualism and rich iconography of other contemporary cultures every time!
What is it about handbags? I have never been much of a one for collecting different shoes and bags - the one bag goes everywhere until it dies and then gets replaced. But lately as I trawl around markets, thrift shops and auctions - I am becoming more and more fascinated with them, and have starting to buy them.
Purses and handbags have their origins in early pouches used to carry religious objects, food and medicine. Both sexes carried them. It was not until the late 18th century when women's fashion became more form fitting, and could not accommodate pockets, that fans, dance cards, perfume and face powder had to be carried separately.
With this came a shift of focus from the utilitarian to the fashionable and aesthetic - with invention of small often embroidered silk drawstring purses called 'reticules'. These were a smaller vesrion of what women used to carry needlework.
Reticules could be made of fabric coordinating with a particular gown or
ensemble; some had papier mache bases and fabric tops. Toward the end
of the Regency, they began using clasps as an alternative to the
drawstring. Reticules frequently featured beading or embroidery and
could be quite elaborate. The rise of the bag as important fashion accessory had begun.
By the early 20th century bags were an indispensable accessory, and while hats were popular for a time, they began to be less popular, but handbags went from strength to strength. Handbags were a sign of adaptation to the times - they held cigarettes and sunglasses rather than seeds and icons. They matched the outfit and the occasion in size, shape and material.
During WWII, the shoulder bag became popular and with the invention of synthetic materials and new fabrication techniques further refinements into developing bags and materials specific to use continued, such as waterproof bags for beach. This variety carried over to influence the woman consumer, who now needed several bags in order to cater fro specific uses.
Today, bags are considered an integral part of the look, and like all things visual, that we wear, they are also an expression of the personality of the wearer. There is an amusing book called "How to tell a woman by her Handbag" by Kathryn Eisman that suggests the loyalty to specific handbags (that I described at the beginning of this blog) gives an insight into the carrier's personality. After two years of research (really!) Eisman pronounces some of these tell tale categories:
One-strap messenger bag: She's the quiet rebel who will change the world, but she risks exhausting herself by lugging unnecessary angst
Fake designer bag: While she's faking who she is, at least she's
got good taste when it comes to choosing whom to imitate. But she's only
Over-stuffed bag: She shows a selfless strength, but martyrdom is so passé
Quilted Chanel bag: She's always perfectly appropriate but
sometimes she's also a perfect bore. If people saw the real her, they'd
actually really like her.
Gym bag: She knows what she wants and goes after it but occasionally she has to deviate from her routine.
Well, I am not so sure that was time well spent! I guess someone will buy the book? In my research online I came across a plethora of often plain silly articles on the relationship between handbags and personality. Handbag contents can be used to read personality, body image can be enhanced by bag shape and size and personality can be even changed apparently with bag choice and an intervention on bag contents!
I feel a new career coming on - Handbag Reading - I am confident, now, that I can conduct a handbag analysis without you even having to email me a picture of your bag and its contents. I guarantee that my reading will show how revealing your bag is about you and your life.
There is a pattern revealing itself to me, now - those interesting, curious, quirky, decorative, and vintage bags reflect our equally unique, quirky and interesting personalities! Hmmm. Right on.
Men are hunters and women are foragers and this is the basis for our shopping habits, the researchers tell us. I am buying and selling more and more male things as I am attracted to some of the things that males love. But I am interested in men's behaviours when and how they shop online - as the interface is different to shopping in the real world. Below is a recent graph from http://dailyinfographic.com which is interesting reading.
I love the comment that women make philosophical judgments in their purchasing while men are more tactical and strategic. The melodica I have listed on ebay above is an example. A man would probably only consider buying it if he was looking to learn the instrument or add it to his existing collection. In other words it is mission driven in that he won't look at it twice unless it is in his head.
On the other hand, as a buyer of vintage goods to sell to both sexes I should also be mission driven but, I bought it because I loved the retro styling and the sound it made. In my poetic reading of the object, its actual function as a working musical instrument or that very few people would be interested in buying it were almost irrelevant. I currently have my eye on a beautiful small 1960s accordion, why? because it is a great looking object, and has a beautiful mother of pearl veneer of course! I am not a musical person at all.
Not all my decisions are aesthetically or poetically driven - I do also like function and form. The mid century ice cube tray for example is a true aesthetic delight, has bags of retro appeal but it is also very functional! It allows you to have retro coolness in your glass, so to speak.
The chart above also suggests that, for women, shopping is on our minds a lot. We grab at opportunities to do it. Shopping and talking about shopping is a social event - an opportunity to bond with other women in a like minded gathering activity. An activity that our brains are biologically wired for. Etsy works for women particularly I think because of the social networking strategies it offers.
The top graph which shows online spending by age does indicate a parallel between the genders - both genders in fact are doing plenty of shopping. It seems to me that the common stereotype that men don't like shopping may be refined into the notion that men don't like shopping the female way. The outcomes are the same, but the ways to get there are different. Online shopping gives them a means to do this efficiently. That is, men like to buy and women like to shop.